I live in Brisbane in south eastern Queensland (Australia) and we are now on what are called level 3 water restrictions. This means if you want to water your garden you have to use a bucket. It is illegal to use a sprinkler or even a hose at any time.
South east Queensland is one of the fastest growing regions in Australia and we have had a few dry years. There is no water recycling, no desalination plant and we have not traditionaly pumped from groundwater, we have relied almost exclusively on three dams that were build decades ago.
As dam levels continue to fall and the population continues to grow the Labor state government recently committed to building a dam on the Mary River. A group has formed to opposed the dam with a website called SaveTheMaryRiver.com .
Following is an article from a local aboriginal elder about the Queensland lungfish and why the Mary River should not be dammed:
“Imagine being able to link your history back 380 million years? Impossible you say? Yes, for humans, but we have one resident of Queensland who can do that – The Queensland lung fish (Neoceratodus forsteri).
The lung fish appeared on earth 180 million years before the dinosaurs and found a habitat which enabled it to live into our days. Is it right that we humans are contemplating the destruction of this pre-historic example of evolution because of five years less rainfall than we used to have? This living fossil link is the evolution of all our feathery and hairy fellow creatures with fishes
There are six species of lung fish in the world belonging to two families. One family contains a single species only, and this is our Queenslander, making it a very rare species indeed. What is special about our lung fish is that it has only one lung, while all other species have two (paired) lungs. World-wide lung fish are very rare and endangered because they rely on special habitats that increasingly are occupied by humans. The natural habitat of the Queensland lung fish is restricted to the Burnett and Mary River systems.
The Queensland lung fish is unique in the world, making it a creature of highest biodiversity value and significance. It is a rare natural asset which we have a duty to protect.
Its uniqueness, the links to the past, afforded by its natural habitat confined to our State, should be sufficient reasons in themselves for highest protection priorityf or this creature and the habitat on which it depends to ensure the survival of a viable population – the only one of its kind on the planet.
However, another important reason to protect it, is that it is a sacred (totemic) fish of the Gubbi Gubbi people. We never killed or ate the fish, and saw it as important to protect it. We call it “Dala” and for reasons associated with its important place in our culture, we were often referred to by other Aboriginal groups, as “the Dala” people. Our traditional land encompasses the Mary River basin and its catchments.
The Mary Cod is an important economic fish, but the Dala (lung fish) are not to be killed but protected from harm.
The lungfish’s longevity of life and occupancy of our waterways, is undoubtedly due in part, to its protection by our people over tens of thousands of years. We are still bound by this duty of care – the reason for my penning this document in an appeal for help for the survival of “Dala”.
Through the Integrated Planning Act (1997), now embodied in the South East Queensland Regional Plan (2005), the State government committed itself to “recognise, protect and conserve Aboriginal values in land, water and natural resources” (section 7.4). It also recognises the principle and policies to “conserve and manage the region’s biodiversity values” and “ensure land use planning and development activities “..respect identified biodiversity values” in order to “protect, manage and enhance areas of ..biodiversity significance: (section 2.1).
The proposed dam on the Mary River clearly violates the SEQ Regional Plan because the Mary-Burnett basin is known to be the only natural habitate of the Queensland Lungfish. It also ignores the Gubbi Gubbi cultural heritage values and the reverence we give to this creature.
Studies to date give sufficient reason to not dam the river, however, if further studies are undertaken for developments which involve use of water from the Mary River, the following should be given special attention:
Studies must involve fresh-water stream ecologists and other scientists using the most up-to-date technologies and methodologies. The issue is too critical to rely on outdated practices. (Data to date indicates that our lung fish transported to other catchments have not done well, so tranportation is not an answer).Its eggs are attached to specific aquatic plants during August to December. However, it is slow growing, taking 2 years to reach 1.2 cm. and 100 years to reach its maximum size of 1.5 m. The plants on which eggs are laid, should also be the subject of study and care. With its long life span, the fact that Dala fails to reproduce under altered conditions such as those caused by a dam will go unnoticed for years – but then it will be too late to rectify the mistakes we make today, which will destroy Dala forever.
Effects of dams on Queensland Lung Fish (“Dala” to the Gubbi Gubbi people):
• Dams prohibit the possibility of migration over the long distances they need during spawning
• Dala requires shallow, flowing riffles and glides amongst dense beds of submerged aquatic plants to lay its eggs – these do not exist within a dam.
Breeding cannot occur in the deep waters of a dam. There are many issues associated with the need for riffles, optimum water quality, and so on, but the bottom line is: Dala will become extinct if it cannot breed.”
By Eve Mumewa Doreen Fesl,OAM,CM,PhD (nee Evelyn Serico), Gubbi Gubbi Elder